Results tagged ‘ Mike Lieberthal ’

Mike Lieberthal and Phillies Alumni Weekend

Last week, former Phillie and Phantasy Camp coach Mike Lieberthal was inducted onto the Phillies Wall of Fame, part of the franchise’s annual alumni weekend.

Lieby’s speech:

Lieby in the booth, providing instant bad luck to Roy Halladay:

Lieby with Phantasy Camp regular, Scott Palmer:

(Hey, that’s the other Drillers coach, Kevin Stocker, unveiling Lieby’s plaque!)

“Sarge”… the other one… and Von Hayes with Scott Palmer:

Tommy Greene, complete with the Affliction t-shirt that he wore pretty much every single night at both Camps, with Scott Palmer:

Alumni weekend roundup:

I’m amazed looking at all the attendees last week and think about how I shared many days and nights with these baseball idols. It still gives me goosebumps. I’m still that 10-year old boy reenacting a made-up World Series in my backyard.

Again, the biggest of congrats to Mike. You deserve it!

Let’s go Drillers!

Phillies Phantasy Camp 2011 - Mike Lieberthal and Kevin Stocker

Mike Lieberthal to the Phillies Wall of Fame

Mike Lieberthal… former Phillies All-Star catcher, fellow sushi fanatic, and more importantly, coach of my Phantasy Camp team for the past two years, has just been selected for the prestigious Phillies Wall of Fame. Lieby will be inducted in a ceremony before the Phillies game against the St. Louis Cardinals on August 10th. He will be the sixth Phantasy Camp Legend to adorn the Wall, in addition to Greg Luzinski, Bob Boone, Juan Samuel, Darren Daulton, and John Kruk. Congrats skip!

Phillies Phantasy Camp 2011 - Mike Lieberthal and Kevin Stocker

Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mike Lieberthal

Phillies Phantasy Camp 2011 - Mike Lieberthal

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mike Lieberthal

Phillies Phantasy Camp 2011 - Mike Lieberthal

1/21/12 – Day Four of the 2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

I think of my parents every single day. It’s been more than 20 years since my mother passed away. For my father, only two.

I am an only child, so his death had an especially profound effect on me. Last year, Phantasy Camp was not just a baseball experience. It was therapy. It was redemption. It was a tribute. It was the happy ending to a tragic tale, and at the same time, the perfect beginning to the new, ever-expanding story of my life.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

This year, Camp has had a very different feel to it. I’ve come down to Florida knowing what to expect… physically and emotionally. I needed his support last year to let go and enjoy the moment. Now, he’s just hanging out on the bench, playfully making fun of my hitting, having a few beers, retelling the same old jokes over and over (laughing at himself before he even gets to the punchline), and making friends with every single person in Clearwater.

I miss him so much.

And in these last two days of Camp, those feelings couldn’t have been any stronger.

———-

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

This is starting to get old. Another beautiful day on tap. Another day full of baseball.

Fellow Campers are showing each other pictures on their phones of snow-covered neighborhoods, sent from their loved ones in the Philadelphia area. My wife follows suit and shares with me the now white taxis speeding down second avenue.

I love snow in the winter. I love New York City. Currently I have sunburn on my neck and face. I’m wearing shorts at 7 AM. For right now, I’ll take this.

Ricky Jordan replaced Ricky Bottalico on the bench at this morning’s Kangaroo Court. No one asked why. It was probably for the best.

After the daily awards were given out, our GM, Rick, approached the bench and presented the judges with several bottles of wine in response to the last two days-worth of vino-related infractions. The Cutler men are my type of guys. They love their food. They love their wine. And they love sharing it.

Luckily, no Drillers were called up to stand trial today, however, my friend and Camp roommate was not immune. Sam looked perplexed as he approached the stand and was read the case. Then it dawned on him midway through.

Clearwater Air Park sits right down the road from the Carpenter Complex. Yesterday was a busy day for the air park, as there were a steady stream of large, low-flying cargo planes coming and going over the complex all day. Sam stepped to the plate yesterday as the first batter to start the game. He then called time and stepped out of the box. One of the cargo planes was straight ahead, distracting him. When asked by the umpire, Sam said the plane was “in his line of sight”. Well, this caused befuddled looks from all three judges, prompting Larry Andersen to ask, “are you a couple thousand feet tall?” Sam did not hear the end of this for the rest of the Camp. Every time a plane flew overhead, people jokingly called for time.

Once again, this proves you ALWAYS have to watch what you do or say at Phantasy Camp… or else.

———-

Back to the action on the field. The Drillers entered the day with a record of 2-1. We still had a shot at playing for the Championship Game. It was very simple and obvious: we had to win this morning’s game for any chance.

But first things first. We had to warm up.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Bob Boone

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

All the kinks were worked out. Let’s play two!

As was the case in our first game, I would be catching our staff ace, Steely Dave. Unlike last time, the both of us would be in there for the full seven innings. But just like game one, we left the field victorious.

We played the Ravens, coached by Bob Boone and Jim Eisenreich. Their first batter? Sam. I promised myself to make no jokes about planes. Although, as I started to become more comfortable behind the plate, I was contemplating using a little strategy not unlike John Candy in this clip. (NSFW)

I’m kidding.

We had a great pitching duel going against the Ravens pitcher, and longtime Camp veteran Bill Rodebaugh. Like most every pitcher, he was successful against me, sending me down on strikes twice.

For me personally, this game was all about my defense. Early in the game, I was a half a step short of catching a foul ball behind the plate. After already making a play in front of the plate in the first game, I was determined to add a foul ball to my catching “bucket list”. I had come close last year and was determined to get one this year.

My dad knew my strength in baseball was my defense, and not my offense. We spent countless hours in the backyard after he got home from work. He’d hurl the ball as high as he could into the fading sunlight, not caring what obstacles I had to avoid… a nasty hill, large rocks, etc. This is why I patrolled the outfield for most of my playing days. I could catch anything that came my way. Catching one foul ball behind the plate would be my gift.

I had told the ump after I returned that wanted to get one so bad. Very encouragingly, he told me I would.

Later in the game, another one skyrockets above me. I can hear it was hit very well, so I may have time to get my bearings, locate the ball, and catch it. I threw off my mask and spun around two full turns. I may have even added another half. I could not find the ball. All I can hear is people yelling, “up! up! up!” Where the hell was it? It’s clearly in range.

*plop*

With my back to the mound, the ball dropped a couple feet in front of me. How did I miss this? Usually, when a foul ball is hit, it travels upwards. I was not looking that way. For some reason, I kept my head straight ahead.

As the inning ended, I strolled back to the dugout and found my coach, Mike Lieberthal smiling and laughing, all while shaking his head is utter disbelief. He didn’t have to say anything. But he did. He just kept asking why I wasn’t looking up. I could not give a valid reason. As if that wasn’t bad enough, while I was taking off my gear, Bob Boone, who was making his way to coach first base, took a detour and heading towards my direction. With a huge smile on his face, he reached out and put a hand on my shoulder. I immediately started to laugh because I knew what was coming. “The first rule in catching is to always look up when there is a foul ball. You’ll never go wrong if you follow that.” Two of the greatest, longest-tenured catchers in Phillies history. Gold Glove winners. All-Stars. In the space of one minute, I was teased about my catching “skills” by both men. My game-winnng double the day before was definitely my top highlight of the Camp so far. This may have just tied it.

The game moved along. We were ahead, but it was still tight.

Steely Dave was pitching a great game. As another pitch arrived, another foul ball was hit. Third time was a charm. There it was, easy as pie. My first foul ball. Absolutely satisfying.

Surprisingly, I would quickly forget about that one.

Another inning passed. Another pop foul. This time, hugging the third base line. I immediately spotted and locked in on the ball. As I got closer, I heard my teammates yelling “Dave! Dave!” I knew right then that Steely Dave was also hurdling towards the ball. I never took my eyes off the prize, but I heard his footsteps. I knew this could be disastrous. The ball was Earthbound. My arm was stretched out, and my glove was open, getting ready to catch the ball. Just as it was about to land, I see out of the corner of my eye, Steely Dave, diving headfirst at my feet, as to avoid the full-on collision. I toppled over him, on to my back, forming a lumpy pile of humanity. I quickly looked in to my glove. Just like something out of Bad News Bears, I gazed in awe and what just happened. I caught it. I raised up my glove to show the ump.

Out.

I returned to the plate, the ump waiting for me with a congratulatory fist bump. OK, that just topped everything.

We took our turns at the plate and broke through the wall. We plated run after run. I even found myself working a walk, finally improving my On Base Percentage. It was over.

This was, without a doubt, our most impressive win. Every single player contributed. Stock and Lieby admitted that this was the toughest game ball decision they had to make, so they gave more than one. Steely Dave got one for his stellar pitching performance. As for the hitting star, it could have been anyone… well, except me. But this time, it went to Ed Keith. We all thought poor Ed was going to be sidelined after hurting his hamstring in the very first game, but he roughed it out every single game. He was playing come hell or high water. This game, he came through with a couple huge, run-scoring hits. Everyone agreed on that one. Ah, but then Lieby added one more. There would be a ball given for the “defensive play of the game”.

Two in a row.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Dad, this one has your name all over it. Thank you.

———-

It was back to clubhouse before lunch. Like I said before, I’m not a catcher. I’m used to big gloves to help catch fly balls in the outfield, not beefy, stout catcher’s mitts. My left hand begged me for a little relief. I made my first trip to the trainer’s room. I walked in and saw Sam, laying on the table getting his ankle wrapped. During our game, he got caught in a rundown between second and third base. He slid awkwardly towards third, and it took him some time to finally get on his feet. He finished the game, and the rest of the Camp, but that ankle swelled up like a San Francisco Giants outfielder’s head. I got my hand wrapped up and numbed it with ice. I took a photo of him on the table. He returned the favor.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

While in the clubhouse, we learned that the 3-0 Clippers were upset in their morning game, which meant there was a three-way tie for first place. We would be in the running for the Championship Game! Ah, but all hopes were quickly dashed as the tie-breaker would be determined by runs allowed. That 17-run debacle the day before would be our undoing. We would be playing for third place. Even though we gave up a lot of runs, we also scored the most runs out of any team in the Camp. So basically we were a classic American League team.

So our last game would be purely for fun. Of course ALL the games are fun, but this had no pressure involved. We could take it relatively easy and be ready and healthy for the big three-inning matchup against the Legends tomorrow. However, this game did have a little something “extra” to it. We would be facing the Sky Chiefs, coached by Greg Luzinski and Terry Harmon. What was so special about a fourth place team? This team featured former Philadelphia Eagle, Ike Reese.

We headed over to Richie Ashburn field for our last regular game of the Camp.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

The guys got warmed up. We were loose and relaxed. Let’s have fun.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mike Lieberthal

Dave Mongeluzi took the mound and my platoon-mate, Howie Cutler, assumed catching duties. The first batter Dave faced was none other that Ike Reese.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Ike Reese

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Ike Reese

Ike hit a slow dribbler down the first base line. Pretty much everyone in the Camp would have be thrown out in that situation. However, Ike is a professional athlete. I think he got to first base in about seven steps. Everyone on the bench just “oohed” and “awed”. There ain’t nothing you can do about that.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Terry Harmon and Ike Reese

To be completely and totally honest, I really don’t remember too many specifics about the game. I know we lost, but I don’t even remember the score. I was having too much fun talking with my teammates and our roving cheering section, which included Dave and Jim Roberto’s children.

David (Dave’s son) had been recruited to be our new batboy, after Joe Stackhouse left the Camp early to attend a special award ceremony for his son, thus leaving an open position. After my first at-bat which resulted in a strike out, he approached me, and with the manners of the politest young man, started giving me pointers about what I was doing wrong. He told me he was working with a hitting coach back home and remembered a lot of his advice. David told me to stand further up in the plate. My positioning in the back was causing me to swing late. I listened very attentively and told him if I got on base next time, he was getting a special mention in my diary.

OK, he was going to be mentioned anyway, but I had to sweeten the deal somehow.

My next at bat, I got up there and gave him a special look after I took my position in front of the plate. Wouldn’t you know it, I was making contact, hitting foul ball after foul ball. I got the count to 3-2 and ripped a grounder that was misplayed by the third baseman. Sure, it was an E5, but I had a fantastic at bat. I got to first and immediately pointed my finger at David. I gave him a huge smile and nod of my head. He returned the gesture. Best. Bat Boy. Ever.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

I was eventually sent in to play centerfield for a couple innings. After a couple hard hit line drives came my way, and a putout, Ike Reese stepped up to the plate. He hadn’t hit the ball hard all game, but he had the power to put a ride in to one. He also was pulling the ball, so I shaded him to right and took a few extra steps back. Well, wouldn’t you know it, he hits a long gapper between the leftfielder, John Ashcom, and I. Our scouting report had too small of a sample size apparently. I tracked the ball down and by the time I squared myself to throw to the cut-off man, he was already a good 3-4 steps to third base. I did mention he was fast.

The throw was made to third to nab him, but it skipped under the glove, and Ike made his move, sliding into home for a “Little League home run”. Or, you can hear it from him yourself. Yes, that centerfielder he speaks of is me.

Well, the outcome didn’t quite favor us, but we became a small footnote to a funny story.

The best part of this particular game though, and the whole Camp for that matter, was watching the interactions of all the fathers with their children. This Camp would soon be over and to watch everyone in the final hours of this experience was touching. Steely Dave and his dad Phil… cheering each other on, giving words of encouragement in-between innings. Rick… beaming like the proud father he is of his son. Howie… thrilled to be sharing this trip with his dad, whom he clearly loves with all his heart. I recall Rick greeting Howie at the dugout after he provided a clutch, run-scoring hit, and gave him a hug and kiss on the cheek. Dave, Jim, and Joe… playing quick games of catch with their wonderful and lovely children right after the conclusion of every single game.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

This is more than a fancy trip to play baseball. This is about family. This is about fathers playing catch with their sons when there is no more light to the day. This is what I wanted for my father and I, but never had the chance to do so… but nothing made me happier than to watch others around me relish in the joy of this Camp and their family. That’s what this is all about.

———-

Tonight was the awards banquet, complete with a cocktail hour outside by the tiki bar. This more than made up for the cancelled outdoor luau from the first night.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

The weather was gorgeous this night. Couldn’t we just stay outside and receive the awards here? I really didn’t need to go back inside.

As Sam and I made our way up to the bar, we noticed a very familiar face hanging out, signing autographs, and taking pictures with folks. Darren Daulton, the longtime Phillie catcher and member of the famous ’93 Macho Row, had made an appearance. His Hawaiian shirt and deep… deep tan, were unmistakable. I snapped a picture of him with fellow Driller teammate, Paul Kirsch.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Darren Daulton

We made our way back in to the hotel ballroom for the banquet. Like last year, the table were adorned with the jerseys of our team.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Team MVP’s were first given out. And the award for best Driller goes to… Steely Dave! Our own personal Mark Fidrych, circa 1976, had taken home the prize. His solid pitching on the mound and smooth stroke at the plate made him very worthy of the award. In a very kind gesture, he returned to our tables and thanked every single one of us, saying if it wasn’t for us, he wouldn’t have received it. He said he would loved to chop up the award into 12 individual pieces and mail them to us.

I think my teammates can say, without a doubt, this actually may happen. Dave, you just keep it buddy, you deserved it!

Here is Dave with his proud father and rock at second base, Phil.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

The banquet was filled with wonderful moments, including John Kruk receiving a plaque commemorating him for his work with Iraq War veterans. Truly touching.

The Maje McDonnell Award was given to Camper Craig Gerhart. I’m going to save this fellow for my next diary entry…

The banquet ended with a fantastically-produced montage of photos from Camp and hilarious shorts featuring the Legends. I must say, this presentation far exceeded the one shown at last year’s dinner. That ended the banquet on a very high note. So why stop the flow?

Off to the hotel bar for one final night of imbibing and saying goodbye.

Tomorrow will be the best.

You can read about Day Four from last year’s Phillies Phantasy Camp here and here.

1/20/12 – Day Three of the 2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

My legs feel about 300 pounds. I’m developing a really nasty bruise on my right thigh from a pitched ball. My left hand, specifically my thumb, is not happy with me.

But I could not be in better spirits. It’s another stunning day in Clearwater, projected to be in the mid-70’s. My team is coming off of an impressive opening-day win, and all of a sudden, we are thinking “championship game”.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

The training room has already grown a large appendage from it’s door, full of moaning Campers. I must say though, this year I saw much less people take their place in line to get wrapped, rubbed, iced, and dunked. There seemed to be a lot less (serious) injuries. Everyone was in much better physical condition.

I asked my lockermate how his hand was this morning. Yesterday afternoon, his throwing hand had an unfortunate encounter with a line drive, causing his thumb area to swell up and turn a very interesting shade of blue. He was worried about his status for the rest of the Camp. In more than an hour, I would truly find out how he was faring.

We head to Bright House Field for our second Kangaroo Court session. Can Steely Dave make it a sweep?!

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Before the judges were introduced, and after the morning announcements, awards were given. The Camp likes to recognize the “Gamers”, the most outstanding performances of the previous day, and the “Gomers”, the not-so-outstanding. Last year, the Drillers were the first team to get a collective Gomer Award for our drubbing on day one. I distinctly remember that game, as I was thrust into catching after a layoff of about 30 years, which coincidentally felt like how long the game lasted.

Well, to keep the tradition alive, even in our moment of triumph, veteran Driller Joe Stackhouse was given the dubious prize for a particular run-down play. Now, I must dispute this because honestly, I don’t think it was his fault, but damn, it sure was funny. Joe was caught between third base and home. The catcher, running him back to third, threw to the fielder covering. The throw, I thought, went low and plunked him in the helmet. It was almost like a classic Three Stooges moment. It felt like they all stood there in disbelief as the ball made a comic “doink” sound off of his helmet. Now, clearly this was not under Joe’s control. Others disagreed. What “officials” saw was Joe reverting back to his soccer days, and lean his head into the ball, as if he trying to get the ball past a goalie. So, poor Stack was given the unfortunate award.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Scott Palmer

This wasn’t the end for other members of the Drillers. For a second day in a row, the first Camper called up for Kangaroo Court was John Ashcom, our player of the game. During his hitting drills in the morning in the batting cages, John faced live pitching. He wanted to try hitting from both sides of the plate. So they decided to turn on the pitching machine. He then asked if the machine had to be turned around. What he meant to ask was if the protective screen for the pitcher had to be turned around as those favor right or left-handers. Clearly an honest mistake, something I most likely would have said. Ah, but any little mental misstep in this Camp will be caught and used against you. So for the rest of the Camp, poor Ash was the victim of many-a-“switch-hitting” joke, mostly from Larry Andersen.

This wasn’t the end for us though. Our GM Rick was also called up. Everyone knew this was coming. Rick was being chastised for the bottle of wine incident the night before at the Bull Session. Rick told them he would gladly buy Larry a case of whatever beer he would like and have it sent to the radio booth during the season. This just got him into more trouble as he was only offering beer, not wine. His trial did end on an unjustly opinion by Ricky Bo, calling the one bottle he gave them “horrible”. He claimed it was pure sugar. Apparently Ricky has never heard of dessert wine. The next time, Rick should just give him a nice aged bottle of Ripple or Thunderbird. It’ll be cheaper. Then he and I can then share in the good stuff.

It was off to Robin Roberts field for the first of two games today. Spirits were high. We were loose. Let’s get this going!

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mike Lieberthal

I would be starting today at DH with Dave Mongeluzi getting the call behind the plate to catch his friend and veteran Driller, Jim Roberto. Howie would later finish off at catcher, making it the only game where I did not have to put on the gear.

Immediately, I started liking our chances. The Bay Sox ran into some pitching issues the game before and had to resort to using their one Legend coach, Von Hayes, to pitch a couple innings. Today? The lockermate with the swollen hand was taking the mound. In my head I assumed this could potentially lead to our second win with a pitcher who was not 100%. What happens when you assume?…

We came right out of the box and staked a 2-0 lead, yada yada yada, it was time for lunch.

Fine…

Well, we did have another impressive offensive showing, putting up seven runs. The problem? The Bay Sox easily surpassed that number… by ten. The final was 17-7. And just like that, our Championship Game hopes took a turn for the worse. We still had a chance, but any tie-breakers would come down to “runs allowed”.

Oops.

So how did I do? Well, I can proudly say I did not strike out. I actually contributed to our offense, going 1-3 with a double and an RBI on ground out that I can only describe as being very similar to Willie Mays Hayes’ “hot shot towards the hole”. In fact, mine was also to the second baseman, but I didn’t leg it out. I do believe I also said “oops”. (FYI, this video is NSFW)

In the field, I patrolled left. My defensive line showed one putout and two run-towards-the-warning-track-because-the-ball-is-easily-over-your-head plays. That pretty much summed up the game.

Oh well, you have to dust yourself off and forget about it. It’s baseball. Have fun.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mike Lieberthal and Kevin Stocker

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Mike Lieberthal

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Most importantly, it was now lunchtime.

———–

Our next game was at Joe DiMaggio field, which is situated just outside of the Carpenter Complex. Last year, due to rain the night before, the field was unplayable, so we were forced to play at Bright House. Life is tough. Of course, this was also the site of our Gomer Award-worthy game.

Let’s move on.

We boarded a bus for the quick ride over. This was the perfect time to recharge.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

During warmups, a race between Kevin Stocker and Stack’s son around the bases took place. It was a photo finish, and I think that photo is still being developed.

After Little Stack lead everyone in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, it was time to redeem ourselves against the Lookouts, coached by Milt Thompson and Scott Eyre. This would also be the first time I would play against Martha Eyerly. Like last year, Martha was the only female player in Camp. Her and I had struck up many conversations, but never had the chance to face her in a game. As she had already been beaned by a couple pitches this year, I feared she would take revenge on our squad.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Kevin Stocker

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Milt Thompson

Just like the last game, we came right out and scored four quick runs. Our offense again was clicking on all cylinders, with hard hits from Dave Horowitz and Stack. Ash knocked in the first run and Mongeluzi ripped a hot shot down the third base line, plating two more. The tide was turning.

Ash was our starting pitcher and threw one helluva game, but the Lookouts offense was not to be outdone. In the bottom of the 6th, we had fallen behind 8-6. Things were looking grim again and the Lookouts were showing swagger.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Kevin Stocker and Mike Lieberthal

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Milt Thompson

Then the wheels started falling off. Their pitcher lost his control. Walk after walk lead to us evening up the score and eight apiece. I strolled up to the plate with two outs, and bases loaded. Just then, they brought in a new pitcher. As I went back to the dugout to let the reliever warm up, Mongeluzi, easily the most positive and vocal voice for the team, kept encouraging me for this upcoming at-bat, even throwing in a “this would make a great story for the blog”. Trust me, it was definitely in the back of my head as well Dave.

The best aspect about a situation like this is, you still have an inning to go if you don’t score. You’ve already made a huge move by tying it up. Really, the pressure is quite low. I took that attitude up to plate with me and it worked like a charm. After working the count, I got a hold of one and sent it flying over the leftfielder’s head. I didn’t even reach first before I started pumping my fist in the air. A two run-scoring double. Without a doubt my best hit of the entire camp. Nothing but the sweet spot. I could strike out every at bat for the rest of Camp and I would not care. I had this.

Steely Dave was brought in to close the game and I finished off behind the plate where I took over midway through the game. We shut the door and left the field on top.

Whether in victory or defeat, Stock and Lieby always award a game ball to someone on the team. For the first time in two years, I finally got it.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Man, that felt good.

So for the second day in a row, we headed to the clubhouse on an extremely high note. We were 2-1, currently tied for second place. There was only one 3-0 team, and two with 2-1 records. We still had a shot.

———-

It was another ride back to the hotel, and another miraculous sunset greeted us over the Clearwater Memorial Causeway.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

This evening’s event would be a dinner outing with our team. Again, we went to the Island Way Grille, a really fine place to eat, even for this jaded New Yorker. Last year I sat next to Lieby and got to speak to him about, well, everything. He recounted the day he was drafted and all the excitement and craziness of that moment. This time, I sat near Kevin, and like Mike, told us of that fateful day when he got the call from the Phillies’ Lee Thomas. Just fascinating. We spoke of his other ventures post-MLB, including his annual TV announcing of the college world series, and all the details about his preparation leading up to a game. Do you know he sleeps through half the game?! It’s mostly pre-recorded.

I’m kidding.

Anyways, we had a fantastic meal, topped off with some extra sushi courtesy of Howie. Now I am a sushi hound and this… was incredible sushi. The spicy tuna roll? VERY spicy. Domo arigato Island Way!

We got back to the hotel relatively late, and, well you know now how this day ends.

Big day tomorrow! Will we turn our franchise around and make the championship game? Will I learn to properly use my catcher’s mitt and stop dropping pitches? Will I carry over my success at the plate and stop whiffing? Will I NOT end my night at the bar? The suspense must be killing you.

You can read about Day Two from last year’s Phillies Phantasy Camp here.

1/19/12 – Day Two of the 2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

My father always preached to me that if you have consumed a decent amount of alcohol in a given night, in addition to drinking a lot of water, ALWAYS take two aspirin before your head hits the pillow to prevent any morning uneasiness. It never fails. Thus, my morning started out great… other than the fact it was 6:30 AM.

A good breakfast and incredible weather got the day off on the right foot. As I waited to board the bus, I ran out to the back of the hotel to catch the sun rising.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

I exited the lobby and was greeted by this automobile. I was really hoping this was the “veteran bus”.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Even though it’s been a year since last Camp, the bus ride over to the Carpenter Complex was as familiar to me as the back of my hand. The veteran bus I rode on pulled in to the parking lot and I immediately got chills. The sun rising over Mike Schmidt Field every single morning, casting the most beautiful shadows over immaculate diamonds is a nothing short of miracle.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

As we came off the bus, a sandwich board directed us to the other entrance to the clubhouse. We would not be experiencing the pomp and circumstance like the rookies, but that’s OK. This is THEIR moment.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

As the rookies were listening to Scott Palmer’s emotional speech and the voice of Dan Baker reading off their names outside, I made my way to my locker and found my brand new uniform. I’m so happy this moment did not lose any of it’s luster. I still got goosebumps seeing that crisp and perfect jersey.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

I had some time to take a breath and get ready to greet the rookies when they entered. I started hearing laughing and went to investigate. Ike Reese’s locker had already been targeted for some good old-fashioned hazing.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

I was then instructed to take my place and welcome the rookies. The looks on their faces as we clapped and cheered for them… I know that very well. That gave me so much joy to be a part this special moment for them. Every single one of them looked like little kids. I’ll never forget entering that clubhouse for the first time. I hope they don’t either.

Ike Reese made his way in, filming the moment on his smartphone. I heard his howling laughter when he came to his locker.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Ike Reese

In the middle of chatting with some familiar faces from last year, and talking with the new guys, I got myself suited up for our first Kangaroo Court session.

I made a point to get out to Bright House Field a little early to snap some photos, maybe even catch some current Phillies doing some morning workouts, just like last year. There were rumblings of a Vance Worley sighting, but no dice. No bother. The weather was absolutely stunning, so much warmer than last year. I just took it all in.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Kangaroo Court was ready. The judges’ garb was laid out. Let’s get blue!

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Scott Palmer spoke first, laying out the day’s events, where to go, when to go, etc. A few words from the head photographer, ESF folks, and the crew chief for the umpires (complete with day’s first F-bomb)… then came the judges. Larry Andersen, John Kruk, and Ricky Bottalico took their spots on the bench, along with Mickey Morandini as the court-appointed defender. The F-bomb count immediately surpassed 100 within the first 10 minutes. That was fast.

The very first person called up was Dave Steel. I had met Dave the night before at dinner. His father, who I remembered from last year, had given his son the Camp as a gift, and they would both be on our team this go round. Dave, as I would come to find out throughout the entire week, is a renaissance man. Steely Dave had been charged in the case of “premature cupulation”. He apparently wore his cup from the hotel to the clubhouse, then later went looking for it, as he thought it was missing. This was definitely a sign of things to come with big Dave.

More laughs ensued as case upon case was heard, usually followed by Morandini’s catchphrase, “I got nothing”. Ike Reese would be the last victim of the day, charged with skipping Milt Thompson’s hitting clinic the day before.

We made our way back to the fields where we got our pictures taken with the Legends. Afterwards, I returned to the clubhouse to change in to the red batting practice jersey, as to separate the veterans from the rookies. After some group stretching, the rookies were summoned to their various stations for specific drills (hitting, outfield, infield, pitching, and base-running). Us veterans shagged flies, took grounders, and split up for a quick pick-up game to get us loose. This was much more relaxing than the constant rotating around the complex that the rookies were going through.

Standing out in the green of the outfield, taking in the warm Florida sun, hearing the sounds of fungo bats, just me and a fly ball… pure baseball heaven.

Before the morning session ended, there were rumblings coming from two different fields. On the Richie Ashburn, cheers were overheard as Ike Reese, taking batting practice from Ricky Bottalico, parked one over the rightfield fence. No offense to Ike, but he had a horrible-looking swing. But… he was a professional athlete. He’s a VERY strong man. If you are in shape the way Ike is, it doesn’t matter how bad you look at the plate, you are bound to get a hold of one and muscle it out of the park.

Here’s Ricky Bo giving Ike some post-AB tips.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Ricky Bottalico and Ike Reese

Over on the Mike Schmidt field, an extra special Phillies guest was making the rounds. There he was… one of the greatest Phillies ever… Dick Allen.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Dick Allen

Unfortunately, Allen had retired a year after I was born, so I never got to see him play. Oh, but I have read enough about him and heard plenty of stories from my father about his skills to know he was THE man. It was amazing to hear all the Campers saying how Allen was their favorite player when they were growing up. This was their Mike Schmidt.

Plus, how can anyone NOT love this?

After that, it was back to Bright House for lunch. Seriously, this is tough work.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

Scott Palmer got on the microphone and announced the teams. It was finally time to get down to business. I knew three of my teammates would be returning, so I chose to once again, play for the Drillers, coached by Kevin Stocker and Mike Lieberthal. I had been contemplating a switch to a new team, just for the experience of having new Phillies Legends as my coaches, but I had such a blast with Stock and Lieby, and knowing the stellar guys that would be coming back, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

During the draft, Ike Reese was sitting next to me. He was chosen for the Sky Chiefs, coached by Greg Luzinski and Terry Harmon. Luckily, we would get to face them later in the Camp.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Ike Reese

So it was off to Steve Carlton field to get ready for our first game against the Mud Hens. We were greeted by our player representative, Joe. He was the Drillers’ rep last year and I was so happy to have him back. This year, the Drillers added a General Manager to the mix. Folks who sign up as GM’s at Camp are given the opportunity to help draft players and be a part of the team-building experience. Our GM this year was a lovely man named Rick. As it turned out, his son Howie would also be playing with us. This now made two father-son combos that would be on the team. I was absolutely thrilled to be a part of this, to see the joy in each other’s faces… but at the same time, not surprisingly, I experienced moments of sadness.

This is what my dad and I should have been doing.

———-

As to be expected, I started the game at catcher. Before the lunch break, I saw Lieby who said to me, “Sarge, you ready to catch?!” I had a feeling even before Camp started I would be tabbed to take the spot behind home plate. Even though that’s not my first, or even 7th choice, I was actually looking forward to it. To be completely honest, the only thing I don’t like about catching is all the damn gear! Other than that, it’s a pretty great position… well, there is the constant strain on your knees and legs, the foul balls off you various body parts, the everlasting pain on your catching hand… OK seriously, who in their right mind says, “I want to be a catcher”?

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Kevin Stocker

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp - Kevin Stocker and Mike Lieberthal

Our opening day starting pitcher was Steely Dave. He had really nice velocity and occasionally threw a fork or drop-arm. As the game went on, we found ourselves in a pitcher’s duel. That is until the 4th inning. We pulled ahead 2-1, and in the 5th, broke out the whoopin’ sticks. Five runs on eight hits. Our star of the game, John “The Mailman” Ashcom, delivered with a big single. The floodgates opened. Five consecutive singles. The Mud Hens retaliated with one run, but we returned the favor with one of our own, courtesy of Ashy’s double. Steely Dave ran in to some trouble and was relieved by veteran Driller, Dave Mongeluzi. Dave closed the game and we started out the Camp on a high note, winning 8-4 with 14 hits. Definitely a huge improvement over last year. All of a sudden, we had the Championship Game on our minds!

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

How did I do? Let’s just say, I had fun watching my team win. I caught four innings and patrolled rightfield at the end. I pulled out my best Carlos Ruiz impression by fielding a squibber in front of home plate, and throwing a perfect strike to first. I didn’t have the new hockey-style masks, but the traditional backwards batting helmet/mask combo, so I’m hoping my whipping-off of the mask looked pretty cool… I’m sure it’s didn’t, but I’d like to think so.

At the plate? It wouldn’t be one of my patented batting performances if I didn’t start out the Camp with two strike outs. The first looking, of course. The third was a “broken bat” grounder to second base. Later I started taking pictures of the bat, to which Stocker threw out one of his hundreds of little sarcastic comments, this one about my “massivly shattered bat”. Yes, it really was just a tiny crack, but I don’t care.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

As if the day couldn’t have ended better, we followed the most amazing sunset all the way back to the hotel. Unlike last year, the warmer weather and clear skies created absolutely stunning scenes of natural beauty each day on our return trip. Every night looked like a painting filled with the most vibrant of reds and oranges. I wanted to take pictures on the bus, but this was the one time I just wanted to take it all in. I waited until I got back to the hotel to capture the last moments of the day.

2012 Phillies Phantasy Camp

The night ended with the Bull Session. All the Legends gathered, took questions from the audience, and told stories of their playing days. This is just another opportunity for some good-naturing ribbing on each other. Rick, our team’s GM, got up to ask a question, but before he could, made a nice gesture that would end up backfiring on him. He had procured himself a couple bottles of wine from the Phan wine and cheese tasting a couple hours before. Rick, who is a big lover of wine, had opened a bottle for us at dinner. He told Larry Andersen that he would like to give him some as he knew he loved wine. The problem was, there about a half a glass left. He brought up the red and an unopened bottle of white dessert wine. Well this just caused all sorts of “you got to be kidding me?!”-type of responses. Larry proceeded to down the remaining wine like the champ that he is.

Rick was sure to be called up tomorrow morning in Kangaroo Court.

There were many great quotes from the Legends, but my two favorite came from, not surprisingly, members of the ’93 Phillies. A Camper had asked Terry Harmon about playing in Connie Mack Stadium, as he was the only Phillie there to do so. John Kruk blurted out, “He played when the managers wore suits!” Classic.

The last came from Mickey Mornadini, who ended the session with a story about former Phillies pitching coach and Brooklyn Dodger, Johnny Podres. In 1993, Danny Jackson was pitching in Cincinnati. Jackson was giving up a lot of homeruns, and in turn, the stadium would set off fireworks. Needless to say, it was like the 4th of July. Podres walks out to talk to Jackson. When Danny asked Johnny, “What the hell are you doing here?”, Podres responded, “I’m just giving time for the fireworks guy to reload.”

And with that, we retired to the bar, yada yada yada, it was a helluva day.

You can read about Day Two from last year’s Phillies Phantasy Camp here, here, and here.

Legends… but for the wrong reasons?

As anyone who is a frequent visitor to Bleacher Report can attest to, they sure do love their lists. Who doesn’t love a good best-of/worst-of ranking? Movies, music, books, TV shows, and especially baseball players…

These lists are meant more to spur debate and for pure entertainment. (It always amuses me how a publication like NME constantly revises their Best Albums, Best Bands, etc. How do The Smiths improve one year, then degrade the next? Fascinating).
Bleacher Report recently released a list: Philadelphia Phillies Worst Players at Each Position Since 1980. This one definitely piqued my interest as there probably would be many-a-mention of players that took the field for the Phillies during the formative years of my Phandom. There were definitely some no-doubters on there, but to my surprise, there were plenty of Phantasy Camp Legends on this list.
Mike Lieberthal! (my coach!) 
Juan Samuel! (twice for 2B and honorable mention for CF)
Tyler Green! (honorable mention)
Ricky Bottalico! (honorable mention)
Admittedly, the author claims it’s a very biased list and it’s more about the “most despised players”. The problem all of these guys had was that they were on very less-than-stellar teams. It’s much easier to point out the negatives of a player(s) when the team is losing. If these current Phillies teams weren’t making the playoffs or winning a World Series, a bunch of the players could easily have a different light shone on them. 
With seven All-Star appearances among every one of these players listed, I’m going to have to disagree with Mr. Spaulding with his choices. I bet a visit to Phantasy Camp would alter his decisions.
But hey, this is exactly the reaction he is looking for, right? What Difference Does It Make?  

More Phillies Phantasy Camp Photographs

I was very excited to come home today to a package from the professional photographers at Northeast Photography who were trailing our every move in Clearwater. Inside was the photo CD I ordered on the last day at Phantasy Camp. So without further ado…

1/20/11 – Day Two, morning

Of all the photos I received of myself, this was easily my favorite. My facial expression while entering the clubhouse for the very first time could be described as a combination of a “deer caught in the headlights” and a “get the hell out of my way” Wookiee. In front of me is the famous Gene Mattioni. In case you forgot about Gene…

I have to admit a secret. The baseball hat I’m wearing is actually a 1963 replica Baltimore Orioles cap. I felt a little guilty about this, but as you can see from the clock on the wall, it’s 8:10. I can not be responsible for any fashion choices this early in the morning.

As soon as we got our uniforms on, we posed for our Phillies Phantasy Camp “yearbook picture”. I was voted “Most Likely To Not Be Able To Keep A Cleanly Shaven Face For More Than Two Minutes.”

You’d think I would look a little more excited about our very first Kangaroo Court Session.

You’d think.

1/20/11 – Day Two, afternoon

Here I am warming up in-between innings during our first game against the eventual Camp champions, the Red Barons. This was my only inning manning the hot corner. Luckily for the team, I had no defensive opportunities.

*whiff*

I look like I’m swinging a cricket bat here. No “six” for me.

Not only is this my solid single off of the eventual Camp Cy Young Award winner, Tony Carfagno, but I couldn’t help notice the similarity in this Mike Schmidt poster that used to adorn my bedroom wall:

Obviously there are a LOT of differences in these two shots. The biggest one of course is Schmidt is wearing a blue, away uniform. I am wearing the home, red pinstripe uni. Everything else is very minor.

Mike Lieberthal gives me the big high five for my single and hopefully starting the rally to break through to the pitching clinic we were suffering through. 

The pitcher won.

Here’s my attempt at being an Allen & Ginter baseball card

Later at Bright House Field…

Advancing to second base on a single after my walk. 

Among the plethora of memories from Camp, there was one that, to most people, would seem very mundane, but struck me oddly compelling. During my first at-bat at Bright House Field, I fouled a ball over the backstop into the sea of empty blue seats. The ball clanged around like a Plinko disc. I got such a kick out of that. You go to a Major League game and see foul balls all the time landing into the throngs of fans. The throngs of fans were obviously not in attendance, but I just hit a foul ball into a spot that any number of Major Leaguers have also done. Call me crazy, but I thought that was pretty cool.

“crazy”

Fine, let’s continue…

Leading off of second…

…and forced out.

1/21/11 – Day Three, Kangaroo Court

Because of our devastating 18-0 loss against the Bay Sox at Bright House Field, the Drillers earned the first ever “Gomer Award” given to an entire team. Scott Palmer laughs along with us as Kevin Stocker tries to justify our play on the field.

It didn’t work.

1/22/11 – Day Four, afternoon

Here I am going for the force out in our third game of the day against the Sky Chiefs. I’m actually not really remembering this play. I don’t recall if the out was made, but I do know there was no throwing error. Trust me, I remember my errors. And here is the sequence of my most dunderheaded miscue of the Camp, later in the game…

(Here is my excuse: I mentioned that it was extremely windy this day. Check out the palm tree directly behind me. And which way am I running? I rest, your honor.)

It’s looking good…

Nope.

I picked up the ball and wildly hurled it towards first. I dropped to my knees in utter disbelief. Two errors in one play. Beautiful.

I got it this time!

*phew*

I’m in the middle of a drop-to-the-knee Jayson Werth swing here, minus the power. My facial expression? Even I can’t figure this one out.

This hit resulted in a fielder’s choice. 6-4 if you are scoring at home.

Kevin Stocker is underwhelmed by my even more underwhelming fielder’s choice. I’m overwhelmed by my lack of oxygen intake running down to first base.

——————-

Speaking of photography, over on my other Phillies blog, The Transplanted Phan, I recently posted a couple links to a gallery by Philly.com staff photographer David Swanson. He’s taken a really great approach to capturing the sights down in Clearwater this year. He’s armed himself with an iPhone and has been documenting Spring Training using the Hipstamatic app and adding a hi-fi/lo-fi approach to traditional documentary photography.

Phillies Insider Legend Interviews

I had the pleasure of briefly meeting John Brazer, the Director of Publicity for the Phillies, while I was at Phantasy Camp last month. John recently filled in for Larry Shenk, the VP of Alumni Relatons, over at the MLBlog Phillies Insider, and posted several quick interviews with some of the Legends while in Clearwater. Below are the links to all his conversations…

1/22/11 – Day Four of Phillies Phantasy Camp – morning and afternoon


Back in July, my wife and I attended a performance of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band at Radio City Music Hall.  This was the first time either of us had seen a former Beatle live and in person, and we were very excited.  This day, Ringo was celebrating his 70th birthday and in the back of our heads, we had dreams of a possible surprise appearance by his former bandmate and only other surviving Beatle, Paul McCartney. The show ended with a rousing rendition of “With A Little Help From My Friends”, assisted by a stage-filling group of musicians, family and friends that read like a who’s who in the music world. After a “Happy Birthday” sing-a-long, everyone exited the stage.

Then this happened…

PaulRingoNYC_JLiverani148.jpg

The Beatles have been, and will always be extremely important to me, as well as my wife.  I still remember to this day the moment my mom excitingly put the album “Revolver” on our turntable and an entire world of music was opened to my young ears.  Witnessing the two surviving members of The Beatles performing “Birthday” together on stage was a dream come true.  I thought about my mom; how much a Beatles fanatic she was and how she never got the chance to see them perform in concert. The closest she got was sitting on the hood of a car, with my dad, parked outside of JFK Stadium in 1966, and listening to The Beatles try and perform over the din of the screaming fans.

Six months later and here I was, having another dream of mine come true… on my birthday.  And just like that night in July, I thought of my dad this morning.  Just as my mom didn’t quite get to see The Beatles, my dad never had the chance to experience Phantasy Camp.  What happened later at the Awards Banquet really drove home what this Camp was truly all about, and exactly why I was here in Clearwater.

But first, I had some games to play.

This was going to be a very busy day. We first had to finish up our game against the Ravens that we started the day before. After that, we would play two more games. Ernie Banks once had famously said, “Let’s play two”. I’m pretty sure no one else had ever eagerly quipped, “What the heck, let’s go for three”.

Before we headed out to start our triple dip, we reconvened for our daily Kangaroo Court session.  Unfortunately, Judge Andersen called me out for a second day in a row.

Andersen: “Bryan Sargent, please rise. I understand this is a special day for you?”

Me: “Yes, it’s my birthday.”

Andersen: “No, I said a SPECIAL day!” ‘bangs gavel’ “Guilty! Two dollars for interrupting court. Next case!”

And so it went. It was sad knowing this would be the last Kangaroo Court of the Camp. I’ll miss all the foul-mouthed, yet good-natured ribbing and “public defender” Mickey Morandini’s clip-on tie and famous answer to the all of the judges’ inquiries: “I’ve got nothing”. However, I will not miss Mitch Williams’ dip cup, which he unfortunately forgot this morning. Mitch’s projectile spit after every other sentence, from the riser where he sat, onto the floor below, was not necessarily something I want to see first thing in the morning.  I’ll give him one thing; the distance he achieved was quite impressive.  Only a small town Texan could get that that kind of velocity. If only he was THAT accurate when he… no, I won’t make that joke.

It was off to Carlton Field to resume our rained-out game from the day before. Unfortunately, we could not carry over the mojo we had going for us the day before. We gave up eight more runs and lost the game 10-4. While manning third base, I made a ridiculous error, which clearly was foreshadowed the day before by Kevin Stocker. He was telling a group of us about his time playing next to Dave Hollins in the infield. Hollins loathed having to field infield pop-ups, as they have the tendency to spin back towards home plate. As soon as a ball was hit in to the air, Dave would immediately call Stock’s name to get the ball.  Well here I was, playing third, and a decently hit pop-up comes my way. Now, I’m much more used to playing the outfield, where fly balls don’t spin in. They soar, dive, or knuckle, but never spin back away from you, unless you have a nasty wind at your back.  Like a bad movie with a little Kevin Stocker talking head next to my shoulder, I hear him say, “Infield pop-ups are the worst”. The next thing I know, the ball is bouncing off of the heel of my glove and on to the ground. Error #1. Panicked, I see the runner on first far off the base. Instead of taking a second to assess the situation, I heave the ball to first in hopes of catching the runner napping. Not even close. Past Mark Stuntman it goes. Error #2. I stayed on the ground, atop my knees, shaking my head at what just transpired. I figured I would get in a prayer or two while I was down there, pleading to any spiritual being that would hear my call that this play would be completely wiped clean of everyone’s minds. Luckily, we got out of the inning unscathed. Funny enough, I made the third out, catching a soft line drive. I could hear the collective holding of breaths.  The next inning, I found myself in the outfield. I get the picture.

I finished the game going 0 for 2 with a strike and fielders choice. With my hit the previous game, I went a combined 1 for 3 in our third loss of the Camp.








No rest for the weary. As soon as we were done shaking hands, we walked several feet to our next game on Roberts Field against the Mud Hens. We had our ace, Pete Wichterman, on the mound. We had a good feeling about this. The wind had really picked up, blowing incredibly strong out to rightfield. So with opposing right-hand batters being late to Pete’s pitches, combined with the wind, for some reason, Stock and Lieby thought best to put me in rightfield. They also bumped me up in the lineup all the way to lead-off. Apparently they did not want to win.  Well, it did not matter as Pete threw a masterful game, shutting out the Mud Hens by a score of 5-0. Most importantly, we got over the hump and snagged that first victory of the Camp.

As for my individual performance, the Legends’ tactical move worked out as planned. I led off the game with a walk and eventually scored the first run of the game. Just call me Rickey Henderson… or John Kruk, according to the umpire. Yes, even the umpires got in to the game of calling out my likeness to a former player. This time, I got another one of the famed ’93 Phillies. “Hey Krukker”, said Blue. The next time I attend Camp, I am going down with a short haircut and cleanly shaven face. This was ridiculous.

I couldn’t go this game without another fall to the ground. As is the rightfielder’s job, I ran over to back up the first baseman on routine throws to him from all the infielders. On one particular play, I ran over, like always, to cover a potential overthrow to first. The throw got past our first baseman and I was able to run it down. At the same time I reached the ball, I lost my footing and fell very hard, square on butt and coccyx. The fall sent a shockwave through my body and I was worried I had just caused some damage. I was able to get up and make the throw to second to stop the runner from advancing, but I quickly hit the deck again as if I had the wind knocked out of me.  The first base coach for the other team, Legend Tommy Greene, came over with a few of my teammates to check on me. One of the many Camp trainers came out as well, asking me a dozen questions, and all I could think about is an ex-Phillie is talking me through a potential injury. Shows where my priorities stood. Anyway, all was fine. It was just a hard jolt to my body that threw me for a loop. As I came in to the dugout after the third out, their third base coach, Legend Tyler Green, came over to ask how I was doing. Again, I could have suffered a broken spine, but another former Phil as
ked how I was doing. Cool!

My response to everyone’s inquires on what happened? “I fell on my ***”. I can’t recall any Major Leaguer going on the D.L. with that particular injury.

During the game, Larry Andersen came by to check out how everything was going. He appraoched me and said, “Hey there Inky, how are you feeling?” After I told him I was totally fine, he wished me a very happy birthday.

Come to think of it, I never actually paid my two-dollar fine from this morning.

Check’s in the mail L.A.

As we huddled for our post-game victory talk, the game ball was given, rightfully so, to Pete for his fantastic performance. He asked to say a quick word.

“I have been on a LOT of teams in my life, and you guys, without a doubt, are… the… slowest m#therf###ers I have ever played with”.

We laughed our collective @sses off. Of course, mine hurt when doing so.

It was time for a victory lunch. Unfortunately, it lasted all of 15 minutes as everyone had to head out for the third and final game to determine our placement in tomorrow’s Legends Game. Lousy rain making me scarf down my BLT!

Barely digesting my sandwich, I raced to Carlton Field for our third and final game of the day against the Sky Chiefs. This was the 7th vs. 8th seed matchup that all of the Camp was eagerly anticipating. The crowd rushed to up to fill the bleachers.

Well, that could have been for the Championship game pitting the Red Barons vs. the Bay Sox on the field directly next to us. I could have been wrong.

I was excited for this game as we were facing a team who’s players included some new friends in John Mentzer, Mark Dellavecchio, and one of the Camp-favorites, Gene-Gene “The Fielding Machine” Mattioni. It was the last game of the day. We were all tired. It was getting cold. We weren’t gunning for any sort of placement trophy. This was just going to be a lot of fun.

The Sky Chiefs were coached by Greg Luzinski and Terry Harmon. As we were waiting for our fearless leaders, I met Terry at home plate. As he had been all Camp, he gave me an emphatic “hello!” and asked how I was doing and if I had been keeping up with the blog while I was here. Incredible. He had such a heartfelt honesty to him. You could tell he truly loved participating in these camps. It showed right away in his coaching of third base. For the entire game he was cheering on every member of his team. “Gene! Geno! Genie boy! Let’s get a hit kid!” He never relented. His enthusiasm and positivity were absolutely infectious. He embodied the spirit of this Camp. That’s what it was all about.

(I have to remind myself to snatch up all of his baseball cards…)

I started out the game in centerfield and eventually moved to shortstop. These guys must have the shortest memory spans. My play in the field was limited though, as a small tweak in my left calf from the morning, had ballooned to full hobbling-inducing strain. It would come and go during the game, but by the end, there was no letting up. I was able to get three at-bats in though, going 1 for 3 with a single. I couldn’t have asked for two better outs than the ones I hit in to. One was a pop-up straight to John at shortstop, ending the inning and garnering smiles and points to each other. The last was a groundball to Gene at second, throwing me out at first. If I’m getting out, that’s the way I want to go.

I sat on the bench, completely worn out. I could have plopped down and fallen asleep right there if it wasn’t for the bitterly cold winds that came roaring in. Of course, it was snowing back up north, so I really had no leg to stand on… literally and figuratively. Larry Andersen made his way to the game and saw me massaging my calf. He inquired about it and made me stretch out my leg as he pressed against my toes. What a guy.

We lost the game. And to prove how out of it I was, I don’t even remember the score. So the Drillers officially ended Camp in 8th place out of 10 teams. I’m not going to complain about that. I wouldn’t have complained if we ended dead last… because that wasn’t the point. All I know is, our team laughed a helluva lot and we had a lot of fun. We were all winners.

(Did I really just say that?)

A surprise was waiting for us in the clubhouse break area: several cases of cold Yuengling beer.  NOW I felt like Inky or the Krukker. There was nothing better to help cure my calf pain then a bottle of Pottsville’s finest… that and my first trip to the trainer’s room. I downed my beer, hit the showers, then made my way to the trainer’s room. They escorted me to the hydrotherapy room when I dunked my legs in to the cold liquid situated in one of their two huge metal tubs. All I can is, I really want one now. It would take up half our apartment, but what doesn’t in New York City?

I made my way on to the bus for our ride back to the hotel. Again, we’d only have about an hour to get ready for the big Awards Banquet.

It would all be worth it.

1/21/11 – Day Three of Phillies Phantasy Camp



No, Ryan Howard did not decide to take batting practice on the roof of the hotel in the middle of the night. That would have been two extremely loud, and very close lightning strikes, which scared the holy hell out of me, and most everyone else in the hotel. Unfortunately, that meant that our fine groundskeeper, Opie Cheek, was right on the money about that impending rainstorm.

The bus pulled in to the Carpenter Complex and we were greeted with the image of a virtually drowning Ashburn Field. We did not like the looks of that. As I entered the clubhouse, I saw the grounds crew scrambling to make the fields as playable as possible. The skies were grey and it was drizzling. Plus there was another wave of precipitation on its way. This was going to be interesting.

On the TV screens in the clubhouse, the game schedules for the day were posted, and not surprising, the first set of games were pushed back. I wouldn’t be playing until 2:30. As a teammate of mine said, “Who has a deck of cards?”

First order of business was our daily player meeting and Kangaroo Court. As I made my way to the entrance of the tent, I noticed all the campers were still outside, looking towards rightfield. Immediately, I thought that this might be a current Phillie working out, just as Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown did the day before. Sure enough, at 8:30 AM, in a steady, chilly drizzle, the 2010 CY Young Award winner, Roy Halladay, was out tossing the ball. Living up to all the praise that was bestowed upon him the night before at the Bull Session, Halladay proved why he is arguably the best pitcher in the Major Leagues.  What a beast.

Kangaroo Court came in to session and already there was a shake up on the bench. Judge John Kruk was mysteriously absent from the proceedings and needed a reliever. Judge Ricky Bottalico to the rescue. Before cases were heard, the first of the daily awards were given out. A “Gamer Award” would be given out to the one player who had the best day on the field. Simple. The “Gomer Award” was… the complete opposite. For the first time ever in Phantasy Camp history, the “Gomer Award” was given to an entire team… mine. Our 18-0 shellacking at Bright House Field the day before, added to our 2-0 loss, meant we were completely shutout AND lost by a combined 20 runs… at least I can say I left Camp with an “award”. The winner of the “Gomer Award” is given a mask to wear, a baseball with a ridiculous face on it. Since they didn’t have 14 of them, our poor teammate, Connie Hidalgo, got the dubious distinction of donning the mask.  Another one of my teammates, Mark Stutman, was called to the bench later in the session. It was not a good morning for the Drillers. Mark was charged with batting out of order during our first game, but in his defense, we had an injury on the field. With 14 people in a batting lineup, there was some understandable confusion. Our fearless co-manager Stocker chimed in, “I don’t condone counting”.

Kangaroo Court continued. More jawin’, razzin’, blasphemin’, and crimes against human decency ensued. A lot of us got to thinking that this would probably be a heck of a lot more entertaining if it took place at night, after a few trips to the bar… or maybe not. We would probably have more and more people missing come the morning.

After Court was dismissed, we went to have our team photos taken in the main concourse of Bright House Field, right behind home plate. Normally they would do this outside, but with the weather as it was, there was no choice but to be under cover. This gave us some time to hang about and get to know each other a little better.

Larry Andersen made his way to our team for a quick chat with all of us. We had a lot of time to kill, so it turned out to be a nice experience. I caught sight of a few friends on other teams and talked to them for a bit. This also gave me the time to make up for the lack of photos from the day before.

We took our team photo, in addition to an individual picture with Stock and Lieby. Now we had a lot of time to kill before our game. In between mulling around the complex and clubhouse, I grabbed lunch. Our player representative, Joe Moore, and another rep, led an organized stretch in the outfield of Carlton Field to keep us limber.

Finally, our game was scheduled to start. Unfortunately, the break in weather was short-lived. The second wave of rain started right at the beginning of our game and got progressively worse… very quickly.  Our opponents were the Ravens, coached by Jim Eisenreich and Bob Boone. I made the start at third base and we gave up two runs in the top of the first inning. We continued to run up our record for Runs Against. With our ups in the bottom of the frame, the scoreless streak finally came to an end. We quickly got a couple runners on base. I stepped in and proudly provided our first run of the Camp when I hit an R.B.I. double over the leftfielder’s head.  That got us going. I was moved over to third then scored our second run on a force out. The game was now tied. As we were getting ready to take the field for the top of the second, the game was called. The rain really had started coming down now and there was no end in sight. Our mojo would have to be saved for the next day.

As much as I would have loved to finish out that game, I must admit, I did appreciate the downtime and extra hours of rest before our team dinner.  All the muscles I never knew I had were still aching, and a little R&R would most definitely help.

As I entered the lobby, my friend Sam caught my eye as he was giving me a defying point in my direction. He let me know that I “just made him look like a Little Leaguer”.  I did not realize it at the time, but my double had gone over the head of Sam. If I didn’t get another hit all Camp, I would be satisfied with that one, just for the humor attached to it… well, humorous for me. Not Sam.

I made my way down to the lobby after a nice rest to wait for our shuttle to the team dinner at the Island Way Grill. Before our shuttle arrived, I had a chance to talk with a teammate of mine, Lee Sorenson. His son’s band, Forward Motion, play frequently in New York City. He was telling me that he was just in Manhattan to see him play at this tiny little bar called The Local 269. Funny enough, my current band just played there back in November, and has become quite a fixture on their stage in the last year or so.  Lee told me how proud he was of his son and his music accomplishments. He also told me that he requested from his son that he’d be allowed to join them on stage for one song during a performance of their choosing. He also thought it would be great to have a stage name, preferably something along the lines of “Sting”. To make it easy, they bestowed him with the name “Ding”. Since Lee does not play an instrument, his son gave to him for Christmas a cowbell, inscribed with name “Ding”. Not only was I laughing all night from that story, but also I found that to be so incredibly touching. It was so obvious that he and his son have an amazing relationship, and the pride he had for his son’s accomplishments was so beautiful.

It reminded so much of my dad and I. In my 20 years of playing in bands, I think he probably liked two of them, but he always made time to come out and see my shows and support whatever music I was playing. The countless hours he endured while we were making a sonic racket in our basement easily qualifies him for sainthood. It made me feel so good to see a pure and honest relationship like that.

We arrived at the restaurant, which is co-owned by two former Tampa Bay Buccaneers players, Mike Alstott and Dave Moore. I must say, for this jaded New Yorker, I was very impressed with their food and the creativity in the preparation of their seafood dishes. I regret not getting a couple pieces of sushi, as Mike Lieberthal did. They were some very healthy portions. Since Mike was sitting next to me, we had a chance to talk a little more. He and I chatted about our love of sushi and all the incredible Japanese restaurants in my ‘hood, particularly Matsu (the original location, not the expansion down the street. Trust me). He also told us all about his extreme passion for playing golf, which he is trying to parlay in to an actual career.  He makes frequent golf excursions and got the chance to play a round with Hunter Mahan in Ireland, compliments of their shared agent. As we spoke, he paused, stared at me and goes, “Do you remember Eric Milton”? I nodded. Milton was a teammate of Mike’s on the Phillies in 2004. He continued, “You remind me so much of him”. Well, that’s #2. First Pete Incaviglia, now Eric Milton. I can only imagine who would be next.

Other discussions we had with Mike revolved around his career in baseball, from being drafted, to his first game with the Phillies, to his final days. We also talked about the state of baseball in general, like steroids their impact on the Hall of Fame voting.

On my other side sat our player rep, Joe. I had started to talk with him earlier in the day, and this was my chance to get to know him better. Basically, player reps are employees of the Camp that basically are the den fathers to each team.  They basically make sure that the only thing we have to worry about is having a blast. They figure out all the logistics for each team, on and off the field. They are the workhorses; along with the countless others that made this adventure a true fantasy.  In the morning, there was a note from Joe in my locker, written on Phantasy Camp paper, complimenting me on my job catching and my hit from the first game. It’s these small touches that really make this camp a priceless experience.

Later on in the dinner, Mark Stutman came over to wish me a happy birthday. The next day was actually my birthday, but he had seen the date in the player profile guide we all received the first we arrived.  When the desserts came out, my key lime pie “mysteriously” had a couple candles stuck in it, followed by a chorus of “Happy Birthday”. I immediately looked at Mark and he gave me a coy shrug, denying all responsibility. It was definitely a fantastic way to end the night.

Well, I did have a nightcap at the hotel bar when we got back.

THAT was a fantastic way to end the night.

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